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Barron Promises No In-State Tuition Increase if State Budget Passes, Rehashes Headlines for Lawmakers

by on March 24, 2015 6:38 PM

If Governor Tom Wolf's proposed budget passes, Penn State might not see a tuition increase next year.

Penn State President Eric Barron spoke in front of the Pennsylvania Senate appropriations committee on Tuesday, where he responded to Wolf's call for Pennsylvanian universities to keep tuition flat next year.

"If the governor's budget proposal becomes a reality I would recommend no increase for in-state tuition at all campuses," Barron said.

Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed budget includes a $49.6 appropriation increase to Penn State, but that money isn’t guaranteed. Republican legislators have vocally opposed the budget proposal, making it possible that the budget could change before being passed by the legislature.

Barron spoke to appropriations committees for both the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives on Tuesday. Barron, along with leaders from three other state-related universities, was in Harrisburg to talk to legislators about why Penn State deserves more money from the state government, but some lawmakers wanted to focus on other topics.

When talking to the house appropriations committee, Barron fielded questions about the Kappa Delta Rho scandal, the fact that a group of law students recently brought former domestic terrorist Bill Ayers to campus, and the Penn State Abington professor who was kicked off an airplane and arrested after lighting a cigarette and going on a political rant.

Barron’s responses were simple. Penn State does not tolerate criminal behavior, and the KDR members and former Abington professor are subject to both criminal investigations and university discipline. The decision to bring Bill Ayers to campus was made by students without university interference, and Barron supports his students’ right to hear from controversial figures.

But this focus on recent headlines at a budget hearing revealed what Barron calls “a hypersensitivity” about Penn State because of “a major event” in the not-so-distant past – likely referring to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal that broke in 2011.

“No one sits there and talks about the fact that we have 127,000 applicants coming in this year; no one talks about the fact that business magazines routinely name us in the top ten places for companies to recruit; no one talks about the fact our default rate is approaching half of the national average; no talks about the fact that we’re about to hit the fifth year of over $800 million in research funding,” Barron said in an even, but maybe slightly exasperated, tone.

But for all the focus on these topics, Barron still got his chance to talk about why the support of the state government is critical to Penn State’s mission.

He said money from the state – which totaled $214 million last year – almost exclusively goes toward a tuition discount for students from Pennsylvania. Without the appropriation, Barron said in-state students would each pay an additional $3,500 each semester.

But Barron realizes that a Penn State degree is still quite costly, which is why he’s made access and affordability a focus of his presidency. He told the legislators that keeping students on track to earn a degree in four years is one the best ways to make a degree more affordable.

Penn State is rolling out a program where new students will be guaranteed a part-time job through the university or a local business for two summers while they complete an additional 18 credits – making it much less likely they’ll need to take an extra semester or year of classes, Barron said. The university has also started a “financial literacy” program that helps students understand the long-term impacts of student loans, which Barron hopes will help decrease student debt.

Barron also talked about the economic impact Penn State has on the Centre region and the commonwealth as a whole. The last time an economic impact study was done in 2009, the study concluded that Penn State put $16 billion dollars back into the state economy, which Barron said is “$25 dollars for every state appropriated dollar.”

“We view this as a service for our state with many positive benefits,” Barron said. “Our belief and our hope is that the state will fund that service at the level you want us to deliver it.”

John Shaffer contributed to this report. Shaffer is the president of the Penn State Council of Commonwealth Student Governments.

Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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